Thursday, September 22, 2016

Grand Vin


When I think about my youth, and I try to recall what it sounded like, I only remember a few voices. The voice of my mother reading “Charlotte’s Web” or “Winnie the Pooh” to me. My grandmother making dinner in the kitchen, the sounds of her kindness and humor that was my safe place. And Vin Scully.

The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles for the 1958 season. I was five years old. I can’t remember when I fell in love with baseball, or why. Baseball just seems to have been part of who I am. I don’t know how I came to write jokes either. Those places in my heart and soul seem to have been installed at the factory. I don’t care for any other sports. Not at all. I don’t denigrate them. No more than I denigrate romance novels, or sitcoms on the CW. I save my scorn for the wine business I love. And though I was pre-programmed to love baseball, it was Vin Scully who mentored me, every night of the baseball season, through my crappy little transistor radio under my pillow. His voice is the voice of my childhood. He could speak over my parents arguing in their bedroom if I turned the volume up a little bit. Make me feel better after I’d wet my bed far too late into my life. Vin Scully painted a picture of a world I never knew, but badly wanted to believe in, a world where your best effort was all you needed to prove you were valuable. I needed to hear that as a kid. He brought comfort to my childhood, but also dignity and joy. He never spoke down to me, he never dealt in inside jokes, never put down opposing players or umpires; Vin Scully epitomized class and sportsmanship, as well as the power of observation and storytelling.

Almost everyone reading must know that Mr. Scully has announced that this, his 67th year as the voice of the Dodgers, will be his last year. I’m not heartbroken. I should be, but it’s hard to be selfish to a man who has only been kind and unselfish. Actually, I’m amazed that I lived long enough to see him retire. I’ve listened to him for 58 years. I’d gladly take another 30. But I only feel gratitude, not loss. Grateful to have been born in Southern California where Vin Scully rules.

I don’t have many heroes. How many of us do? Vin Scully is one of my heroes. And so I’m self-indulgently writing about him. I need to, I think. You can stop reading here, if you haven’t already. It’s only going to be baseball foolishness. And there will be hundreds of tributes to Vin Scully written, mine won’t be that special. But I need to, if only for myself.

In the days before the endless stats that now dominate broadcasts, baseball was about the moment. The human moment. Vin Scully, when the situation warranted it, could easily explain the moment, make you feel you were in the game, make you understand what must have been going on in the hitter’s mind, make you think about what must be running through the manager’s strategy. But always with a twinkle in his eye. It was always only baseball. And when there was tragic news in the world, a catastrophe of mythic proportions, Vin would always remind us that there was a game to play, but that it was of no real consequence. That baseball was just the playground, and not real life. I’m certain that’s why I feel the same way about wine. And feel sorry for those who believe it has genuine significance in the world. It does not.

I remember a game against the Giants when Koufax no-hit them. The only televised baseball games in Los Angeles back then were NBC’s Game of the Week, and games against the Giants in San Francisco. It was 1963. I was ten. I had to go to bed because it was getting late. But as the game went on, into the seventh and eighth, Koufax had not allowed a hit. I was listening to the game in my room, the radio under my pillow, hanging on Vin Scully’s every word. In the ninth inning, my grandmother came and “woke” me up, sneaking me into her room to watch the end of the game on television. When Harvey Kuenn hit a comebacker to Koufax to end the game, one of Koufax’s four no-hitters, my grandmother and I let out whoops and cheers. Vin Scully, as was his wont, was silent.

Scully is, like the great writers and poets, the great singers and speakers, a master of the silent pause. After a dramatic home run, he would stop speaking and let the crowd tell the story. He understood timing, and I think I learned much of mine from him. One of my favorite Vin Scully lines was simple, yet perfectly delivered. He was speaking about a player who had suffered a mild injury and was listed as “Day to Day.” A pause. “Aren’t we all?”

There was the wonderful call of Fernando Valenzuela’s no-hitter against the Cardinals. When Valenzuela gets former Dodger Pedro Guerrero to hit into a game-ending double play, Scully first makes note of the exact time of the last out, the date, that he’s pitched a no-hitter, and then says, “If you have a sombrero, throw it to the sky!” You want to listen to a master at his craft, listen to Vin Scully call that ninth inning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efFHcfIuCEs

There are 67 years of highlights. The great call of one of the most dramatic home runs ever hit, the Kirk Gibson home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. “In a year that has been so improbable,” Scully says, always improvising, though after a two-minute pause, “the impossible has happened!” Scully had a way of making memorable moments indelible in your memory. It’s a remarkable, and inimitable, gift.

Through earthquakes, riots, countless disasters and tragedies, culturally and personally, there was that voice in my ear, coming from underneath my pillow. It was the one sure thing in my life for six months of the year, a place I could visit and feel happy and included, safe from anger and fear and pain. I almost liked the lopsided games better because then Vin could tell longer stories about baseball. Yet there was also no one better at calling a dramatic, hard-fought, even heartbreaking baseball game. And probably never will be.

No one from Los Angeles would argue with the fact that Vin Scully is by far the most popular and beloved man in the city. Not Magic Johnson, not Kobe Bryant, not any movie star you can name. He has been for as long as I can remember. It says something about Los Angeles, often seen as vapid and starstruck, that this is true. In some very important way, he’s the most beloved man in my entire life.

I met him once, at the restaurant where I was sommelier. I’ve never been so grateful to meet someone. Bob Hope was a very regular customer, also, and I cannot tell you how many times very powerful, very wealthy, very successful men went up to Mr. Hope in tears because they were finally able to thank him for how much his USO trips to Vietnam meant to their lives, at the worst times of their lives. I didn’t serve in Vietnam, but I felt some of that gratitude to Vin Scully. Everyone will tell you that Scully is the same man you see on television, the same man you hear on your radio. Gracious, articulate, thoughtful, quick-witted, and humble. I wanted to stand up straighter, speak more clearly, and make him proud of me. I’ve felt that every time I’ve heard his voice for the last 58 years.

There’s an old warning that you should never meet your heroes. It’s usually true. Not in Mr. Scully’s case. I muttered something stupid, something he’d probably heard every day of his life, something jejune about him being the voice of my childhood. I was a wreck. More nervous than the day I got married. But Scully was so gracious, listened to me so intently, and thanked me with great charm and affection. It was one of the best moments of my working career, and a highlight of my days in Los Angeles.

And with his retirement, the last voice of my childhood goes silent. All those hours listening to his voice in the darkness, his voice a balm for every real and every imagined wound, the simple kindness of an older male voice a rare and precious gift to a young boy, the decency and sense of dignity he always exuded a shining example of what it is to be a man, I wonder, how many of us growing up in Los Angeles owe a large debt to Vin Scully? And now his brilliant career is finally Day to Day.

Aren’t they all?


24 comments:

Rico said...

Thanks.

Richard Heilman said...

Great article about a great human being, Ron. I couldn't have said what Vin and baseball has meant to me all these years any better than you have. Your "timing" for the article is spot-on as well - I have been thinking of Vin a lot recently and that ESPN tribute to him during their broadcast of the Dodgers-Giants game last night was very special, so I'm glad you came out with your tribute today. Well,guess it's "Time For Dodgers Baseball!"

Robert Miller said...

Yes, thank you for a great tribute. As you did, I started listening to Vin in '58 when I was 12. My mom and I would get by the radio and listen to all the games. He and Jerry Doggett made a great pair. Really missed him when I moved to San Jose in the mid 70's. He is truly a classic in a league of his own. No other announcer comes close.

Karl Kelsey said...

Ron - I love your comments, as they are generalizable to many of us. In Chicago they had Harry Cary; Cleveland had Herb Score; New York had Red Barber, Mel Allen and Phil Rizzuto. In Minneapolis we had Halsey Hall and, for a very long time, Herb Carneal. Etc. These guys provided a voice for a lot of dreams. Nice piece of work. Thanks.

Thomas said...

Ron

Now you're talkin'

On a Tuesday, Oct 4, 1955, Vin Scully finally was able to announce what every Brooklynite like me craved: http://www.si.com/mlb/video/2016/05/06/vin-scully-dodgers-ebbets-field-1955-world-series

I had him for just a few years in Brooklyn, but you said exactly how I have felt about the man throughout his career with the Dodgers. He will always be the voice of baseball to me.

benjamin said...


I always wanted to be able to write like that.

Unknown said...

Scully was interviewed the other day on NPR...Here's a link to that day's web page of podcasts...scroll down to hear the one with him:

http://www.npr.org/programs/morning-edition/2016/09/20/494684657/morning-edition-for-september-20-2016

ANONYMOUS I

Drew M. said...

Thank you, Ron. As an infrequent attendee of Dodgers games over the years, I was fortunate enough to be in Chavez Ravine for two of the games you remembered, and in each case rushed home to hear Vin's calls.

I read your tribute with a smile. Until then end, when I was just a little heartbroken.

Steve Pinzon said...

The Dodgers moved to L.A. about the time I discovered baseball as an 8 year old. Being infatuated with baseball, Vin fed that interest and educated me as well. Like you, I remember having the transistor radio under the pillow listening to my beloved Dodgers 'after bedtime.' I don't really believe in saints, but I'd make an exception for Vinnie. He's stood the test of time with class, dignity, intellect, and incredible consistency. Thanks for your marvelous capsule of his career. Steve Pinzon

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,

I've no love for baseball but every time you write about it I fall madly and deeply. You take my breath away with these kind of pieces....
I love you!

susan wu said...

This is not the usual close to the bone satire, nor is it on wine or wine business. I follow neither Dodgers nor Vin Scully. But reading it is so touching. HoseMaster writes beautifully on a baseball fan's connection with his hero - fervor and laurel, or fantasizing and reminiscing, it all strikes a cord. Thanks for the Thursday delicacy!

William Lavorin said...

Ron,
Thank you for the article. It captures memories of listening to Vin in the car with my dad as a youngster, as we did his delivery rounds.
You are a class act (like Vin)...

Douglas Minnick said...

Thanks for this, Ron. I'm obsessed with baseball and the Dodgers - more so even than wine. You nailed the way I and everybody, I guess, feel about Vin. "I want to make him proud of me" - that's it, that's exactly it. I've read a million words about Vin, and nobody's ever said that before. I want to live up to his example, not as an announcer, but as a man.

Damn, this is gonna be hard.

Paul Moe said...

Damn you. A satirist is not supposed to bring tears to the eyes of his audience.

Ron Washam said...

Hey Gang,
This essay is completely self-indulgent. With all due respect to Harry Caray and Jack Buck and Ernie Harwell and Mel Allen and Harry Kalas, there's only one Vin Scully, and there will never be another. As a sommelier in LA, I met hundreds of famous people. But Vin Scully is the one I am very proud to have met, and the one for whom I feel the greatest love and respect. His talent, his kindness, his passion transcend baseball. His grace and brilliance, his example and his integrity are examples to anyone with the intelligence to see. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should have someone like Vin to admire in whatever passion they pursue. But few do.

I have said for a very long time, ask my wife, that when Vin Scully retires, I'm done with baseball. That's not true. I've thought about that and changed my mind. It would dishonor him to be finished with baseball, betray everything he stands for. I'll continue to love baseball because Vin would want me to.

I have one hope. I do hope that in his last season, the Dodgers go to the World Series. Vin was never a "homer." Unlike so many announcers with the teams they worked for, he NEVER favored the Dodgers, or pulled for them. But, I hope, with all my heart, that it's the Dodgers in a Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, and Vin gives in, and broadcasts that game. I don't care who wins. I just want Vin to call the final out.

And I hope the game goes 25 innings. I'll hang on every word.

David Pierson said...

Growing up I always wanted to be a sportscaster, but fiddling with bits of tape and the egos, I switched to print.. but I remember being a tongue tied 10 year old and getting Bobby Orr's autograph.. and how he just kept his head down and signed anything in front of him, and you could tell he hated the adulation... he just loved to play the game...
And when he did publicity for his auto a year ago, he said, I didn't even want to mention Eagleson, but my publisher said, come on, he was a major part of your life for 20 years and he said to the interviewer, shame on me for trusting him so much and shame on him for ripping me off so much...
He runs a sports rep agency in Boston now and he warns players up front, don't get ripped off, it's your money.. but what I love most, his message, learn from your mistakes, don't be bitter and move on..

Samantha Dugan said...

Just read this for a third time. I'm in tears.
Thank you for this piece of You, LA and a window into the heart of thousands.

Frank said...

Always interesting how the old time broadcasters supported the young ones as they came up - Red Barber gave both Scully and Harwell their major league starts. I wonder if that happens now - actually I'm pretty sure it doesn't.

Alfonso Cevola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
You're sweet, and I adore You. Thanks for feeling me. I know I'll be fine when Vin walks away from his mic for the last time on October 2nd. But next April, when baseball is reborn, I'm certain it will hit me hard.

Alfonso,
I don't know if it's why we read blogs, but this sort of post is why I write one. Catharsis. I couldn't NOT write it. Thanks for reading. I'm sure his last games will be streamed online somewhere...

gabriel jagle said...

A bit of a non-sequitor, but we've been comparing our recent vintages to baseball: 2015 was a fastball right over the middle of the plate, and most winemakers crushed it over the right-field fence. By contrast, 2016 has been throwing curveballs. At first I was just trying to make contact, but as the game wears on, I'm starting to track the ball better, and slap some singles and doubles. Even steal a couple bases with new oak. Overall, this vintage will probably result in fewer crowd-pleasing home runs, but will be much more interesting for people who love the game. Now all I need is Vin Scully to come narrate my harvest...

Charlie Olken said...

<< Always interesting how the old time broadcasters supported the young ones as they came up >>

With so many broadcasters now being ex-players, the progression to the big leagues is not quite the same. But, two of the Giants broadcasters--Pearson and Miller--both got starts in the Red Sox booth--Pearson in Pawtucket (Sox AAA farm team)--before migrating to San Francisco.

Of course, there are not as many "great broadcasters" these days so that may make a difference as well.

I grew up with a favorite broadcaster of my youth, Curt Gowdy, and his is the voice I most hear in my head when I think back to the games of my youth--especially the night games listened to under the bed coverings. I'm sure my folks knew, but it was kind of a game we played.

Vin is the last of the great ones. Even as a Dodger-hater, I admire Vin. Thanks for the tribute.

Jason Solanki said...

I'm from Toronto and always enjoyed his broadcasts. He'll be missed.

jeff lazenby said...

Wow... Such a moving, genuine, and well-deserved tribute. I can't read it again or I'll start bawling out loud. Thanks for putting it to words.